How to become a librarian

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Birmingham Library UK interior

If you love books, what better career than to spend all day every day surrounded by them – getting to know all genres and becoming an expert in the categorisation and classification of different titles.

But there's more to being a librarian than just books - you have to be passionate about helping people gain access to information and resources for study, work and pleasure.

In this article, we will explore how to become a librarian – from the skills and qualifications you need to the different ways you can get there.

'Like books and people? Check out how to become a librarian'

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First, check out this short video from Books and Pieces in which Elizabeth explains the ups and downs of being a librarian and how to get there:

What is a librarian?

Homerton Library, Cambridge
Homerton Library at Cambridge University

Librarians don’t just stamp books. They oversee all the work that goes into running a library.

Librarians are passionate about books and information. They want to help people gain access to facts and figures and experience our own world (plus imaginary ones) through books, magazines, journals, the internet and other sources. This could be for work, pleasure, education or information.

Librarians spend much of their time working with and for people. Being a librarian is about connecting people to information. So people and communication skills are key to the work of a librarian.

What does a librarian do?

Librarians don’t just file books and handle enquiries, which is typically done by a library assistant.

Key duties of a librarian include:

  • Cataloguing, classifying and indexing books, journals and other print and online publications.
  • Ensuring users have smooth IT access and fixing problems.
  • Keeping ahead of new publications and ordering new stock.
  • Ensuring staff and the library follow the law (such as Freedom of Information and Data Protection).
  • Attending meetings and conferences.
  • Overseeing displays, events, sessions and talks.
  • Managing staff and budgets.
  • Occasionally dealing with enquiries at the counter, over the phone and by email.

This infographic highlights some of the amazing benefits libraries provide:

Libraries infographic
Infographic courtesy of Libraries Week

What settings could I work in?

Librarians work in a number of settings. Your school or college will have a library managed by a librarian who you’re probably familiar with. Your local town or city probably has a central public library and many other smaller branches. Colleges and universities have large libraries full of academic texts and journals, serving mainly students and academic staff. There are also public institutions such as the British Library.

What skills do I need?

A library in the US
Libraries provide access to information resources from books
to online publications

You’ll need a range of skills you will have already begun to develop in the classroom:

What qualifications do I need?

To become professionally qualified as a librarian you will earn a postgraduate qualification in librarianship. This will give you certification with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). There are several routes you can go down to attain this.

You can gain a university degree in an undergraduate or master’s degree accredited by CILIP. There are currently 17 UK institutions accredited with CILIP. You can read about them here.

Graduates can also apply to graduate training schemes, often with university libraries. You can find out about this on CILIP’s jobs board.

CILIP has worked with employers to develop a level 3 apprenticeship (level 3 is equivalent to at least two A-levels). This is in the role of Library, Information and Archive Services Assistant (LIAS) which covers “digital skills and information literacy”. You can find out about opportunities to take this apprenticeship on the government's Find An Apprenticeship site but you may have better luck Googling “Library, Information and Archive Service Assistant apprenticeship”.

Another option is to become a library assistant and gain CILIP certification while you work. Anyone can become a library assistant so long as they have a good set of GCSEs. You can apply directly or undertake an intermediate (level 2) or advanced (level 3) apprenticeship.

The apprenticeship and library assistant route paves the way to gaining a postgraduate qualification in librarianship.

How much will I earn?

Library at Lougborough University
Students using the library at Loughborough University

That depends on the sector. Research by Sue Hill Recruitment suggests that averages salaries are as follows for different sectors. The wide range of sectors listed here shows how many fields of work librarians can be found in.

  • University and colleges: £33,000
  • Local government: £30,000
  • Public sector: £28,000
  • NHS: £31,000
  • Non-profit: £28,000
  • Financial sector: £54,000 (library manager)
  • Legal sector: £38,000
  • Professional services: £31,000 (library manager)

You will not start on an average salary. This is the average for all librarians across each sector.

How could my career progress?

You can progress through CILIP accreditation, from certification to chartership to fellowship. You could progress to become a head librarian or manager.

Librarians work to educate the public for study, work, personal research or development and pleasure. Check out career paths in Education & Teaching.

Images

Birmingham Public Library by Sharon VanderKaay, Homerton Library by Steve Bowbrick, Fort Worth Library by Informationwave, Loughborough University Library by Loughborough University Library

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